The dust is finally starting to settle on the 2012 election season. Republican strategists are still scratching their heads to understand how they could have lost so bad in an election year with high unemployment, a weak economy, and facing an incumbent president with a shaky record at best. In less than two weeks, Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term as President of the United States. Yet, already, a number of would-be hopefuls, Republicans and Democrats alike, are sitting on the sidelines, trying to strategically position themselves for a run in 2016. Make no mistake, Chris Christie, the loud-mouthed, hot-headed governor of New Jersey, is one of those jockeying for a front spot on the presidential field.
With a 73% approval rating, Christie looks well-positioned to clinch the governorship for a second time in November. Rumors abound that not even Cory Booker, Newark mayor and shining star in the Democratic Party, wants to contend with him in 2013. This is pretty significant, given almost 60% of New Jersey voters casted their ticket for Obama in the recent election. In Christie’s eyes, if he can trounce his Democratic candidate in one of the bluest states in the Union, he has a decent shot at winning the presidency in 2016.
His recent ratings have unquestionably been buoyed by his handling of the crisis that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But Democrats have also taken a shine to other actions that have cast him in a non-partisan light, at least according to the left. He recently lambasted House Speaker John Boehner and congressional Republicans over their failure to vote on a relief bill that would have delivered billions of dollars in aid to his home state. Christie also sharply criticized Romney for the “gifts” remarks he made days after the election saying, "You can't expect to be a leader of all the people and be divisive. You have to talk about themes, policies that unite people, and play to their aspirations and their goals and their hopes for their family and their neighbors."
Still, one has to wonder if Christie realizes that his criticisms, while popular amongst Democrats, risk alienating Republicans. Many conservatives in the party are still angry with his “ill-timed” praise of Barack Obama mere days before the November election. Some have even called into question his true loyalty to the Romney ticket, citing a self-serving keynote address at the Republican National Convention, and his absence from the campaign trail in the days leading up to the election. Christie won the hearts of many in the GOP with the wit and aggression he displayed in his efforts to take on the powerful unions and was viewed as someone above playing politics. Yet, these recent actions have no doubt left many on the right questioning his loyalty and wondering if he isn’t just another calculating politician.
Christie is undoubtedly popular among Democrats, and he knows this popularity would definitely be useful for a Republican presidential candidate hoping to shake up the Electoral College in 2016. But he has to successfully emerge from a primary process that leans much more conservative — a process where this popularity could in fact be an obstacle to overcome.
He’s making some short term gains among Democrats, but he may want to rethink his long game with Republicans. Then again, a lot can happen between now and 2016. But for his sake, Christie better hope the Republican Party’s memory is just as bad as their current branding.